Equine Influenza outbreaks in UK



Following multiple outbreaks of equine influenza in the UK and Europe in recent weeks a suspension of horse racing in the UK has been put in place until February 13th, the first time since the Foot and Mouth outbreak of 2001 that racing in the UK has been stopped for anything other than bad weather

During January and February 2019, there have been nine cases of Equine Influenza reported in six counties including Essex, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Cheshire and Suffolk in both vaccinated and unvaccinated horses and there has been an increase in equine influenza activity reported in Europe. So far, all of the UK viruses that have been isolated and characterised by the Animal Health Trust (AHT) belong to Florida clade 1

AHT has advised that ‘Multiple outbreaks were reported in Northern France at the end of December, whilst positive diagnoses have been made in the first few weeks of 2019 in France, Belgium, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands. Cases among vaccinated horses have been confirmed in Ireland, France and Belgium with links between recent Irish outbreaks and mainland Europe. France have confirmed an epidemiological link with Belgium in six of the outbreaks, either via horse movement for trade or competitions’

Whilst horse racing has been suspended, the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) has issued a statement that, based on their veterinary advice, it is currently not necessary to cancel other equine events at this time and competitions at venues such as Keysoe and Aston-Le-Walls equestrian centres are continuing as planned this weekend

However, BEF is continuing to monitor the situation closely and will issue further updates once the full extent of this outbreak is known saying that “We again urge all owners to be vigilant and follow the guidelines set out in our previous statement as a precaution. We recommend owners seek veterinary advice if necessary and ensure that all vaccinations are up to date”

For Australian horse owners, this will bring back memories of a difficult time when the first ever outbreak of Equine Influenza (EI) in Australia occurred in 2007 and was the single largest animal disease emergency in Australian history, involving more than 10,000 properties, an area of over 280,000 km2 and more than 140,000 horses to be vaccinated. The disease was declared eradicated on 30 June 2008 after a period of unprecedented hardship and disruption to the horse industry across the country. However, this current outbreak of EI in Europe/UK is different to that of the Australian outbreak in 2007, as the UK-based Australian equine vet Christopher Elliott of Lambourn Equine Vets explains

“This UK outbreak is amongst mainly vaccinated horses whereas the Australian outbreak affected a naive population of horses that have never been exposed to the virus previously” says Chris "The Australian government during EI decided to eradicate as apposed to allow the disease to become endemic in Australia. If they hadn't taken this approach and didn’t 'eradicate in 2008', all competition horses in Australia would also require yearly flu vaccines costing horse owners potentially hundreds of dollars each year"

"However, it may be a timely reminder to Australian readers that all racing and competition horses overseas are required to have a flu vaccine every year (one day late over 365 days and they have to start a primary course again). All vaccines are recorded in the horse's passport and checked prior to entry into a competition and, if they are not valid, the horse cannot compete. All overseas FEI horses are required to be vaccinated every six months but these rules do not apply to horse competing in Australia or New Zealand"

“In the UK at the moment the British Horseracing Association’s decision is precautionary, and I would encourage horse owners to not be unduly concerned at this time”

“My clinic is recommending that all owners follow the guidelines below as a precaution. We are recommending a booster vaccination for Equine Influenza if it has been longer than six months since the horse’s last vaccine”

Actions for owners to take:     


  • It is crucial for all horse and pony owners to be vigilant and follow recommended guidelines (find out more here) on how to detect and prevent the spread of this infectious disease.
  • Look out for signs of disease which can include high temperature, cough, snotty nose, enlarged glands (under the lower jaw), swollen or sore eyes, depression, loss of appetite and swelling in the lower legs.
  • If you see any of these signs, isolate the horse and call the vet immediately


It is essential that any horses showing signs of possible equine flu, or horses that might have been in contact with possibly infected horses, do not travel to competitions or other events where there will be groups of horses. If a horse owner suspects their horse has come in contact with another horse showing signs of Influenza they should contact their vet immediately.

Two subtypes of influenza A virus are known to cause influenza in horses, these are the subtypes H7N7 (formerly known as A/equine 1) and H3N8 (formerly known as A/equine 2). Similar to other influenza viruses there are various different strains, the current outbreak is associated with Florida Clade 1 and this is included in our influenza vaccinations so vaccinated horses are therefore offered some protection.  

Equine influenza protection like other viruses is based on herd immunity and your horse receiving a vaccination will generate an immunity which will reduce the severity of clinical signs and also reduce the viral load shed by that horse therefore in turn reducing the risk to the wider population.  This is the reason we are advising about boosting horses at this time if they have not received a vaccination within the last 6 months to endeavour to maximise the overall UK “herd” immunity and limit spread.

“Be aware but not alarmed is my best advice at this moment regarding Equine Influenza” says Chris “The next few days will determine how wide-spread this outbreak may be as the disease can take up to 3 days to present with clinical signs”